One of the big items in the news today is the stimulus:Â failure or success?Â No, this isn’t a political post.Â It’s a post, believe it or not, about story.
Consider the cases of two average (and fictional) Americans; we’ll call them Patty and Paul.Â Patty has been laid off from her job as a dental hygienist.Â And although she’s been applying and interviewing all over the place, she hasn’t received one offer of a job that pays more than her unemployment benefits.Â As a result, she’s just had to move into her mom’s basement.
Meanwhile, Paul was laid off from his construction job, but quickly found new work through a stimulus-funded road project.Â Things were a little tight while he was out of a job, but now he is catching up with his bills and starting to breathe a little easier.Â He even managed to buy his wife a pearl necklace for their tenth anniversary.
Ask Patty and Paul whether the stimulus worked, and you’ll get fairly predictable answers.Â For Patty, it didn’t; for Paul, it did.
Notice I didn’t say Patty thinks it didn’t, or Paul thinks it did.Â That’s because I believe our reality is formed by the stories we live, take part in, or hear.Â Patty’s got a “moved in with Mom” story, and so she’s existing in a world in which the stimulus was a big, fat flop.Â Think of one of the things you most believe in, something you Know to be True.Â You have a story to prove this, don’t you?Â I suspect you do.Â Moreover, I suspect you’ve told it to more than a few people in your time.
Do you live in a world in which a green apocalypse is imminent?Â In which processed foods are a deadly scourge?Â In which race is a real and relevant part of every social interaction?
I don’t live in any of those worlds, but I know, and respect the heck out of, people who do.Â We are all going about, living in our own parallel worldsâ€”and though they may intersect, they’re never fully the same.
Every time we tell someone a story, we allow them a peek into our world.Â We allow them an opportunity to change their own world, or to harden its precepts, or to, ever so slightly, allow its boundaries to blur.
If this is true, we writers have a special responsibility.Â Yes, our stories are fictional, so people are less likely to build their worlds around them.Â But at the same time, we can reach so many, and we can hold their attention for so long, that it behooves us to treat the world we’re projecting with respect.Â To make sure it matches up with our values, not just whatever’s convenient for the plot.Â To make sure it is our True World, set out there for everyone to see.